Private displeasure with commissioners should be made public

October 17, 2013

Where are the voices of serious minded Ashe Countians?

Where is the Chamber of Commerce, the wider business community and the leaders of local city governments? Why are they not publicly speaking out about what’s going on with our Board of Commissioners? Do they condone their actions?

Other than several letter to the editor writers like myself, Lloyd Johnson, a member of the Transportation Authority Board of Directors, is the only public figure I’m aware of who’s spoken out. At the Oct. 7, County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Johnson rightly criticized the Board and called for Commissioner Gerald Price to consider resigning.

As I and other private citizens have said, and Johnson has reiterated, the forced resignation of two competent county managers in two years has cast a pall on the business climate of Ashe County. Why would any new company want to expand in a community with that track record? Why would top-notch applicants bother to apply for the position of county manager when their job security would seemingly be for a period of about one year?

In previous letters, the analogy I’ve used is that our commissioners have been behaving like clowns in a three ring circus. I’ve labeled the board incompetent and I believe their actions — and inaction — on a number of issues justifies that characterization. But the truth is more serious, and Commissioner Price stands as the poster boy for what’s wrong with the board.

Aside from the fact that Price apparently can’t manage his personal financial affairs, having had his car repossessed and his home foreclosed on, he and his fellow commissioners oversee an annual budget exceeding $33 million. Clearly Price is not capable of handling this responsibility. But it goes deeper than that. While a sitting commissioner, Price has used tactics similar to those of the “sovereign citizen” movement in an apparent attempt to avoid legally-incurred private debt.

Never heard of the sovereign citizen movement? This loose group of financial scheme promoters and litigants takes the position that they’re answerable only to common law and are not subject to statutes at the municipal, state or federal level. The FBI classifies “sovereign citizens” as anti-government extremists. The technique of choice among this movement is paper. Sovereigns file multiple court proceedings containing pseudo-legal nonsense to clog up the courts in an effort to elude legal debt.

A 2012 FBI bulletin suggests sovereigns are increasingly using electronic funds transfer schemes in an attempt to eliminate legitimate debt; a typical scheme works as follows. The sovereign uses a closed bank account to “discharge” debt using a check from the closed account. Memos on the check contain a combination of phrases such as “EFT Only for Discharge of Debt” or “Not for Deposit For EFT Only for Discharge of Debt.” The back of the check usually contains similar language and the phrase “Authorized Representative Without Recourse.” The use of an accompanying notarized affidavit is also common.

If these terms and actions sound familiar to readers they should. As the media previously reported, Price used this same or near identical language on checks he presented in proceedings involving both his car and his home foreclosure and, at least once, notarized his own affidavit.

Media reports also indicate Price filed a $1.6 million common law lien on his own home. Filing liens is another tactic used by sovereigns to try and muddy the water with legal mumbo jumbo. Furthermore, Price’s meritless self-filed $7.5 million lawsuit against Ashe County Sheriff James Williams, two deputies and five other litigants concerning the court-ordered repossession of his car is similar to other tactics used by sovereigns to harass, intimidate and, ironically, attempt to receive financial gain in the process.

Am I accusing Commissioner Price or the Board of anything illegal? Absolutely not. Am I accusing them of incompetence and lack of good governance? Absolutely. Price should immediately resign, as he’s brought embarrassment to the entire county and clearly isn’t capable of carrying out his important duties. The other commissioners should be putting pressure on him to resign, publicly if necessary. The fact that they’re not only further serves to prove their own collective ineptitude.

In August the county’s unemployment rate stood at 9.7 percent, the first time it’s dropped below 10.1 percent since 2008. Our citizens deserve a business climate conducive to growth and economic development. We need competent leadership on the board, but as the string of strategic missteps indicates, we’ve not had that. However, there’ll be no improvement unless additional voices of authority are heard demanding accountability. More of the private sentiments expressing displeasure with the board that are widely circulating around the county need to be made public.

Ken Lynn